The Ducks were thought to be dead in the water a month ago, but now they've taken flight and enter the All-Star break as the second-hottest team in the NHL over their past 10 games. Here are some keys to getting the Ducks back in the playoff hunt.
1. Ducks in a row – Second-half surges at Honda Center have become as much part of the norm around town as Disney parades. For reasons unknown, the Ducks come out of the All Star/Olympic break like their skates are on fire, owning a combined 85-44-15 record in the second halves since their Stanley Cup season of 2006-07. That’s a lofty .642 winning percentage based on points earned and points available. Anaheim needed to start its annual run a little sooner this season, thanks to a late-October slump that extended into November, December and January. After a loss to San Jose on Jan 4, the Ducks were staring at a 10-22-6 mark. Soon after, Ducks general manager Bob Murray let it be known that anyone not named Teemu Selanne or Saku Koivu was available for trade. Suddenly, the Ducks began playing the type of hockey everyone envisioned coming into the season and won eight of nine games. Heading into play on Jan. 6, they were 20 points back of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Coming out of the All-Star break, they’ll be 12 behind. It’s probably no coincidence that Jan. 6 marked the beginning of a 32-game stretch in which 23 of Anaheim’s opponents did not make the playoffs last season. Looks as if they might just be positioned for another second-half run.
2. Hope for Ryan? – Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf remains on pace to deliver his lowest goal-scoring campaign since his rookie season in 2005-06. Just as troubling, his minus-15 rating is 78 points lower than his career total. Getzlaf is the straw that stirs the drink for the Ducks, but too often plays like he'd rather be the umbrella. Even while the rest of the team is spreading its wings this month, the 26-year-old center has been quite bland. Outside of a four-assist effort against Edmonton, he has just two goals and three assists in the other nine games. History doesn’t suggest Getzlaf will catch fire after the All-Star break like the rest of the team has. For their sake, the Ducks might not be able to make up the early-season deficit unless he does get on a roll. And if they don’t, he might be one of the biggest names to change uniforms at next month’s trade deadline.
3. Everything’s swell with Hiller – It’s fair to say that the play of goalkeeper Jonas Hiller has as much to do with the turnaround as any of other player on the team. It’s also fair to say that he wasn’t close to his best the first three months of the season, raising some question whether he was fully recovered from the vertigo symptoms that sidelined him for most of the second half of last season. Hiller hasn’t allowed more than two goals in any of his nine starts this month. That's after giving up four or more in 14 of his first 32 appearances. If he can keep putting up those latest numbers, the Ducks will win a lot more games than they’ll lose.
4. Difference maker – The similarities are too defined to pass off as a coincidence. When second-line wing Jason Blake went down for three months because of a sliced forearm in the third game of the season, many thought he would be a tough patch to cover, but hardly a game changer. Guess what? The Ducks went 8-21-6 while Blake was sidelined. The game he returned? Jan. 6. Officially, they’re 10-2-1 with the chiseled 38-year Minnesotan in the lineup, getting four goals and four assists in the 10 games he played this month. Unofficially, he’s on pace to pass Getzlaf by next week.
5. Age is just another number – The Finnish line is one of the great names in the NHL. Selanne and Koivu, countrymen and teammates, playing side by side and bringing 35 years of NHL experience to the second line. Just when you think Selanne might be window dressing for a final tour of duty, the future Hall of Famer one-ups himself. The 41-year-old right wing currently leads the Ducks with 45 points (15 goals, 30 assists), as well as multi-point games with 13. Koivu, 38, is on pace to match his offensive numbers from the last four seasons, scoring nine goals and assisting on 17 others. He’s been the best forward playing both ends of the ice, owning a team-high plus-12 rating. If this dynamic duo can continue their pace, the Ducks might just keep climbing the ladder.